As a child, I dreamt of being a cinematographer in Hollywood (as you do) but then real life got in the way (as it does), so I put my creative genius (!) to other uses. Then I woke up one morning a few years back, with a movie playing in my head, a story I was desperate to tell. I told myself, “This HAS to be a screenplay so I better learn how to write one.”
Since that creative bomb went off in my brain, I have worked hard to expand my knowledge of the industry and develop my writing skills; honing my craft with a mixture of self-education, great courses, selective reading and fun networking… and of course, lots of writing. Whilst I have my feet firmly on the ground with respect to the odds we all face in this game, I am doing okay.
I mean, despite the many distractions; a ton of films and TV series to watch, a vast library of screenplays to read, zillions of contradictory ‘how to and how not to’ articles posted online (some great, some awful) and ‘expert’ books with opposing formulae, I really do get it:
I just need to use evocative, well crafted words to create images in the mind of my readers; emotionally engage them, entertain them, immerse them in my story. Make them feel something. In short, great stories, really well told.
So recently I watched HAPPY VALLEY with increasing awe: the production, the acting, but mostly the writing that it all stemmed from. And it scared me sh*tess, whilst making that little bas*ard that follows me around constantly dance with joy (you know, the devilish inner critic that sits on everyone’s shoulder).
So, why? Well, not because of the excellent story or characters, but because that nasty little gobsh*te keeps bugging me with thoughts like these:
I admire Sally Wainwright, she has served a long writing apprenticeship, built a strong reputation and created some amazing characters and stories, but it has taken some time (20+ years) for her to get the full recognition she deserves. I believe I have the ability (and dare I say talent). LITTLE VOICE IN MY HEAD: I certainly have the determination, but do I have the time?
Coupled with my own love of writing strong female characters (that aren’t just ‘men with boobs’), it is simply a fact; the industry is mostly white and male. Even if someone you pitch to is more diverse, regardless, they must of course gauge commerciality and/or cater to their bosses/company’s likes and dislikes (and protect their own jobs). Personal taste, quite naturally, will also colour their own subjectivity. LITTLE VOICE IN MY HEAD: Can I ever break through that glass barrier to get an opportunity to have my voice heard?
I actually enjoy networking and pitching, but here in the UK we are generally not comfortable getting ourselves out there and getting in people’s faces (ie self-promotion). I was driving up the motorway a while back and these words were in etched into the dirt on the back of a truck: “Let someone else blow your own trumpet, the sound will travel much further” All well and good, but you have to get that someone else to pick up and blow the f***ing trumpet in the first place. LITTLE VOICE IN MY HEAD: Can I ever be lucky enough to have the chance to prove my writing is good, so that someone wants to be in my corner and help me punch through the ‘no unsolicited’ catch-22 and garner interest in my writing? You know, a Manager!
So, how do I feed that nice little angel sitting on my other shoulder and help him stay strong and loud enough to drown the other little bugger out? Well …
Time (or age/gender/ethnicity) is not really the issue, STORY is the issue. Life is the best apprenticeship for any writer. Whatever your age, tell the f***ing story, inject it with a strong voice, utilise all your skills, make it yours and make it great.
Opportunity is not really the issue, CREATING OPPORTUNITY is the issue. There is someone out there who is a perfect match, you just gotta stay in the game long enough to find each other. You will never meet them sat on your ar*e locked away in your writing space, whining about not getting any breaks.
Luck is not really the issue, DOING THE GROUNDWORK is the issue. Everyone can create the same chance, but if you are not in the game you have no chance. You must be ready to make the most of your opportunity when it comes along.
- There are no short cuts. Build a solid portfolio. Write the crap, write good stuff, rewrite it, fine tune it, polish the great stuff. Write something so good you can’t be ignored. Write right, RIGHT!
- Keep on networking, be helpful and supportive of others, give more than you get. No one owes you anything. Always be learning and developing.
- Persevere – be in it for the long haul. Take rejection on the chin; success is statistics – every ‘no’ is one step closer to a ‘yes’.
- Quieten all those ‘expert’ voices messing with your head and listen more to your own voice, make it your best friend. Set it free to create not criticise.
So feed your creative angel (let’s call it Positive Performance) and say ‘F*** you’ to your critical little devil (lets call it Perplexing Procrastination) starve it of what it craves, what it lives on; your self-belief, sapping your writing appetite and energy.
So, HAPPY VALLEY scared me shi*tless because …
1. The writing inspired me to continue to aspire to excellence in my writing.
2. It strengthened my resolve to tell my stories with as much skill and insight.
3. It reminded me how hard I need to work to achieve that standard.
BIO: Dee Chilton is a cinematographer with words, having maintained an avid interest in film and writing from childhood. With a background in industrial photography (and later teaching it), she helped to write, film and edit live action and animated films. She then drank the queen’s shilling and was press-ganged into the Royal Navy and enjoyed a career ‘seeing the world differently’. She now writes full time and aims to see her words brought to life on screen and in print, in collaboration with filmmakers and publishers. Follow Dee on Twitter.
HAPPY VALLEY Links:
HAPPY VALLEY Scripts to download (legally and free)